[Early Review] Life Itself (2018)

Director: Dan Fogelman

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas

Screenplay: Dan Fogelman

118 mins. Rated R for language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use.

 

Life Itself is poised to capture that couples date night money this weekend, but is it any good?

The film follows a couple, Will (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Annihilation) and Abby (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy, TV’s Vinyl) from college to marriage and onward as the twisting, winding road of their story echoes throughout future generations. After their marriage ends, Will is forced by to tread through his past by Dr. Cait Morris (Annette Bening, American Beauty, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) in order to put his life back on track. But is he remembering things right? Is he a reliable narrator? Is anyone? Life Itself attempts to answer these questions as several different people from vast walks of life intertwine.

Life Itself is poorly-conceived schmaltz and depression disguised to look like a romantic drama. Director Dan Fogelman (Danny Collins) attempts to pull at heartstrings with some of the most awkwardly crafted sequences trying their best to swim in a sinking plot. I could tell Oscar Isaac was really trying, but some of the dialogue he is forced to utter is so cringe-worthy that I almost can’t believe he was able to get it out. The scenes in which he and Dr. Morris are looking back at his relationship with Abby feel like a soap opera mixed with an afterschool special in some sort of attempt at being A Christmas Carol. They stand there and awkwardly toss words at each other while the more important stuff, the actual flashback lies before them.

Life Itself’s plot construction also left a lot to be desired. This film felt like it was laid out with a connect-the-dots in which someone already completed for me. I was sitting in my seat, actively betting myself on how certain sequences would play out and, more often than not, I was right.

I think what’s most shocking is how Life Itself both does and does not take its emotional core seriously. The film jokes about death and pain in some of the strangest ways while actually asking you to feel sad at the right times. It’s tone stays consistent for large stretches and then drastically veers into uncharted territory.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some value in the film. I actually found many of the performances to be fine, particularly from Isaac as Will, Bening as Morris, Mandy Patinkin (Smurfs: The Lost Village, TV’s Homeland) as Will’s father Irwin, and Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro, TV’s Genius) as Mr. Saccione, an owner of a olive farm featured in the latter part of the movie. Banderas delivers a monologue excellently when he is first featured.

Life Itself is a bigger-budgeted version of a high schooler’s experimental short film. It’s really trying to be something here, but it waxes philosophy in such a hammy fashion that it devolves into little more than drivel by the end of its lengthy runtime. I actually really wanted to like this movie, but alas, this is one that is definitely not worth your time.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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